In the Rush Back to the Runways, Sustainability Slipped Out of the Headlines—Here’s Who’s Still Innovating

This time last year, we were calling the spring 2021 season a turning point in fashion’s sustainability movement. Everyone had big ambitions about producing less, using what exists, and designing clothes to last: Francesco Risso was upcycling old pieces into new ones; Gabriela Hearst and Stella McCartney used up their leftover fabrics; Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia sharply increased his use of organic cotton and recycled synthetics; Kenneth Ize and Colville partnered with artisan weavers in Nigeria and Mexico; and Collina Strada launched a “silk” made from rose petals. On our mid-pandemic Zooms, these were often the details designers got most excited about: Gvasalia recalled deconstructing and upcycling his own clothes during lockdown, telling Vogue’s Sarah Mower it helped him fall in love with fashion again. “There’s a need to revise things,” he said. “To start a new chapter.”

We expected spring 2022 to be another step forward, a glimpse of fashion’s earth-friendly future after 18 months of lockdowns and climate disasters. Often, though, the general feeling was that brands were more focused on the media impact of their shows than the environmental impact of their collections. “Remember sustainability?” a colleague laughed at New York Fashion Week. After a year-and-a-half of lofty conversations around the subject, its absence felt abrupt, if not troubling.

In truth, there was a lot vying for our attention this month. The sheer excitement of getting back to live shows was powerful, even if many of us experienced them virtually. These weren’t just regular shows, either: They were music festivals, TV premieres, and community gatherings, each transmitting good vibes IRL and on Instagram. Fashion’s big comeback seemed to demand a show that made an immediate, emotional impact, sometimes to the point where the clothes became secondary to the plot. When a show is no longer about the clothes, there isn’t much space to dive into the nitty-gritty of organic yarns and local manufacturing.

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